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How Green Was My Valley

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charliechaplinfan
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How Green Was My Valley

Postby charliechaplinfan » October 13th, 2011, 6:38 am

I know this is a favourite film of many of our members but it's one I couldn't help but see as flawed and it's a real shame because I think powerful as the film is, it could have been so much more powerful had Ford been realistic. Having watched many more Ford films in the intervening years I decided to revisit it, to see if I could get past the flaw and really appreciate it. I love The Quiet Man and it is a romantic version of Ireland, so keeping this in mind I watched it again, seeing if I could look past the fairytale village and be absorbed into the atomosphere of the film.

Try as I might though, I can't and I think the major reason that I can't is said by one of the brothers who talks about the village as being full of 'filth and squalor' yet Ford's village and interiors are cosy and warm, the village picturesque and quaint. The parlours are huge, with rooms big enough to fit all the village in for a celebration of a wedding. Had Ford reproduced the valleys, grim places that they are, with terraced houses back to back with no indoor plumbing and backyards you're unable to turn around in let alone have a bath and a hose down he'd have produced a social document as strong as the book it came from. Perhaps people didn't want to see the reality and the film has it's power because the nature of mining is a dangerous and filthy business and the representation of the family, community and chapel is so strong but this I fele is mainly present in the script and although lovingly filmed by Ford I think he did Wales a disservice. The village itself felt like Ireland to me, so much so that I felt if possible he was trying to transport the whole novel over to Ireland.

I don't just want to pick a hole in one of Ford's masterpieces, there were many things about the film that I liked. I thought the characterisation was very strong with Sara Allgood and Donald Crisp bringing in such heart rending performances as the mother and father (why did Donald only get supporting actor when he's the main actor in the film?) Roddy MacDowall possibly gives the best juvenile performance that I've ever watched, he doesn't cloy and Ford keeps it away from the maudlin.

I liked the strong theme of family, chapel and community. The denounciation scenes in the chapel were really strong, the talk of 'idle tongues and poverty of mind' 'hypocrisy in black, parading in the chapel' 'the fear that's brought them here' and the 'forgotten love of Jesus'. This pulls together the persecution of Morgan the father and Angharad along with the girl who has got pregnant. How horrific, showing the dark underbelly of the community, the cruelty but also how bad that the preacher only finds his voice when the accusation has come to his beloved. He couldn't stand up and preach beforehand and tell his flock, supportive as he is of the Morgan's and little Hugh, he can't stand up for his love though, he's being noble and in being noble causes suffering for many. I found the portrayal of Mr Griffith terrific and Walter Pidgeon fast becoming another actor for me to seek out. Maureen o'Hara as Angharad, so beautiful, so well photographed here especially with her veil flying upwards after the wedding ceremony.

This family, so many boys, are lucky in a way, many wages coming in, until they emigrate, with boys there's a chance with girls the hope is to marry them off and Angharad's luck at marrying above herself is very unusual, perhaps more is made of this in the book, her husband being very one dimesional, I'm sure he would have had more about him. The whole triangle between Angharad, Mr Griffith and Mr Evans could have been filled out more, I felt Angarhad's story was religated somewhat and I do like Maureen O'Hara, yet it is understandable when the film has so much to say.

The pit rules their lives, it's very vocal and demanding and the village runs time to it, the horrible wailing claxon that tells of tragedy, the horror of waiting to see who's man has been lost or injured. Sound plays a big part, if the pit isn't 'talking' the miners are singing and the score is fabulous and it's a tradition that carries on to this day. One of the main scenes for me is when the young Hugh decides he's going down the pit, to his father's sorrow, yet little Hugh is proud of his father and brothers, he doesn't want the opportunity of his education wating to stay close to hearth and home him being the youngest and the home being deserted of all the others, both are right, yet as the viewer we want him to take another opportunity and cry inwardly for the father who has the foresight to see that education can get a better life for his son. That very tragedy that at the end carries father off, thankfully relieved a little by Ma seeing Father carried off with Owen, the way Ford films this is equally indulgent and simple and powerful to watch. Ford managed to give the viewer a feeling of how the mining communities existed and what they had to cope with but didn't show the reality.

My remaining question is that at the end, are Mr Griffith and Angharad reuntied, I know Ford shows us flashbacks but I don't remember the one of Mr Griffith's and Angharad being in the film.

I now must read the book, it's the story I find so very moving, I want to know how much is retained, how well the film compares. I'd love to know what others think, I know it's popped up on other threads but when looking I couldn't see that it had it's own thread.
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Re: How Green Was My Valley

Postby JackFavell » October 13th, 2011, 9:44 am

You expressed it all very eloquently, Alison, I know that many people find Ford's version of Wales quite a bit off, especially those who live there and in England. Ford had been planning to film on location but could not because war broke out. I have never been to Wales, but I thought the sets seemed small and intimate in comparison with most movies, but I haven't seen it in a few years. I thought during the movie one saw the encroaching filth and squalor, the blackness rising over the land and houses, but perhaps I am remembering wrong.

I think the book actually contains more story than is here in the movie, and they had to select a smaller section to do, but I haven't read it so I don't know for sure. I do know that the voice-overs just kill me, the way they are written and spoken make me tear up every time.

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Re: How Green Was My Valley

Postby stuart.uk » October 13th, 2011, 10:44 am

I've often wondered if Hugh might have gone on to marry Bronwen in the future and leaves the valley, at 60, after she's has died. I don't think she'd have been much older than him.

What about The Proud Valley as a 40s mining film about Wales starring Paul Robeson and Edward Chapman

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charliechaplinfan
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Re: How Green Was My Valley

Postby charliechaplinfan » October 13th, 2011, 1:01 pm

I've heard of The Proud Valley but have never seen it, Stuart, it might be worth a look. How Green is My Valley has parellels for me with Sons and Lovers, which as a book is one of my favourites but I'm quite keen on the film too.

I'm not sure Bronwen and Hugh will marry, the way it is told it is possible but she's at least 7 or 8 years older than him.

I've seen the valleys, nowadays they are grim, they are scarred by the mining industry but at the time of Llewellyn's book, as the voice over says, the valley ha only a slight mark of the pits. If one can get over the machinery, the giant wheels and metal of industry and just look at the houses. Here there is a bit of a fashion for old, quaint houses, like Cornish fishing houses but the houses inthe valleys don't sell. The feeling I got from the valleys was one of the most immediate and less pleasant atomosphere's that I've felt anywhere yet it history and a proud one and as such requires one to stop and think. I do think there is a feel of the of the pit and it's slag and dirtiness closing in on the valleys along with the unscrupulous bosses playing pure economies with the lives of their workers, it's swallowing their world. The size of the Morgan's house though is laughable, all those people would be squashed into a very small space, having said that even with Ford's depiction you can see that this cosy world is dissappearing and Hugh is remembering with fondness. I must read the book.

I'd love to have seen his version set in the valleys at least he got to Ireland to make The Quiet Man, something that adds so much to it's charm.
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Re: How Green Was My Valley

Postby kingrat » October 13th, 2011, 5:06 pm

The studios were never comfortable with showing squalor on screen. Wyler had some of the same problems with DEAD END. I'm sure those of you from across the pond notice the mixture of accents much more than we do, the way that phony Southern accents drive me crazy.

All in all, I think this is one of Ford's best films, despite the problems you rightly mention.

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Re: How Green Was My Valley

Postby charliechaplinfan » October 14th, 2011, 4:58 pm

I don't think the studios did like portraying squalor, it would take a brave studio head to give the go ahead but I think in retrospect it is a shame in some movies were squalor or hardship are key.I did notice the accents, they were very varied but accents generally don't bother me. I don't know about it being Ford's best work, not for me at least but it has a warm, fimiliar feeling to it which I can enjoy again and again. I really enjoyed Ford's Cavalry films I can't be picky about history, it could be accurate, it might not be but as I don't know a great deal about the American west I can watch without getting thinking of factual accuracy.
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Re: How Green Was My Valley

Postby Gary J. » October 14th, 2011, 7:12 pm

Ford, for all of his authoritarian posturing, was always a company man. He worked within the studio system to achieve the ends he wanted.

That said, this film and those made for FOX during this time were as much the by product of Darryl Zanuck as Ford. Ford was never interested in being like a DeMille and overseeing every aspect of his pictured from the costumes to the sets. That's what his producer was for. Between pictures Ford would be off cruising on his yacht while Zanuck would prepare scripts and build sets for projects that he felt Ford could do justice to. Then, if Ford agreed to a project he would have the script finalized to his set of recommendations and generally wouldn't be bothered with during the filming (not by Zanuck, anyways). When the main shooting had finished Ford would once again take off, leaving the editing of the picture in Zanuck's hand. Where he was canny was that he learned to shoot just the minimum amount of footage so that the studio would be forced to edit the film basically to Ford's original vision. This is how he learned to work within the studio's parameters.

When it comes to HOW GREEN...., what interested Ford was the family dynamics as described in the book - along with the 'remembrance of things past' aspect, which was always to his liking. Since the story is being related through the eyes of a 10 year old boy, a tendency to idealize certain aspects of village life seemed perfectly justified by Ford. I don't agree with the comment that the studio's shied away from showing 'dirt and squalor' on the screen. Each studio was cranking out over a film a week during those years so if the script demanded that a certain look was needed, it was generally shown. Zanuck and Ford themselves had just finished work on GRAPES OF WRATH (40) , which wasn't exactly shot through rose-colored hues. The dirt and squalor mentioned in this film is the mining hole that the village depends on. It's not in the homes of the miners. And if you noticed, the inside of the mine itself is hardly shown until the climatic cave-in. This movie could had been set in a seaside coast of fishermen and Ford would still had been more interested in how the family units endure such a living. If you come to this movie with expectations for another KAMERADSCHAFT (31) or THE STARS LOOK DOWN (39), in which the dangers of the job are tantamount towards all others, you may be sorely disappointed. But if you accept a loving look at how families sustain and survive together throughout the years, you will be treated to a moving film experience.
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Re: How Green Was My Valley

Postby charliechaplinfan » October 15th, 2011, 1:10 pm

The quote about the dirt and the squalor in How Green is My Valley is by one of the brothers in regards to the conditions they are living in not working in, the home is big and airy, for me it's a big clanger in the film because it's not squalid at home whereas the reality is that it would have been. I'm a fan of Grapes of Wrath which I feel is faithful to the novel and one of the best examples of books brought to film. In general though I don't think too many American movies liked portraying squalor after the mid thirties, before that I accept there was a fair amount of realism on the screen, realism that Warner's were particularly good at bringing to the screen.
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Re: How Green Was My Valley

Postby charliechaplinfan » October 15th, 2011, 2:49 pm

I've been pondering the differences between The Grapes of Wrath and How Green was My Valley, they were made very close together yet one is realistic and true to the novel and the other has a nostalgic feeling to it and isn't true to the conditions of the time. Is it because TGOW was contemporary and people were aware from photos what the famine and starvation looked like, they'd lived with it and it had been part of their lives. With HGWMV the past is looked at through a rose tinted lens, a yearning for simpler times, of tales passed down through generations and a veneration of the old country. I don't know if this is the case just that there are two movies made by the same team, one completed with complete accuracy the other treated differently.
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Re: How Green Was My Valley

Postby stuart.uk » October 15th, 2011, 11:21 pm

Alison

In an earlier post someone mentioned The Stars Look Down with Michael Redgrave and Margaret Lockwood. While admittedly it did show how tough life was for a mining community in Tynecastle, I took bad with it because I'd already seen the Ian Hastings/Alun Armstrong tv version from the 1970s. The film only concentrated on the early part of the novel, whereas the tv show told of what happened to the characters later on, such as Margaret Lockwood's character falling into a life of prostitution, as played by Sue Tracy, who I saw recently as a gangsters moll, who falls for Jack Regan's charm in a rerun of The Sweeney.

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Re: How Green Was My Valley

Postby charliechaplinfan » October 16th, 2011, 8:38 am

I haven't seen either of those, I think the TV series was a little too early for me, I'll look out for them. Sometimes when a mood is captured just right in a film or TV series nothing else will suffice.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin

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Re: How Green Was My Valley

Postby RedRiver » October 16th, 2011, 3:25 pm

"Valley" and "Grapes" is arguably the most appropriate John Ford double feature. Black and white. From the same era. Addressing similar issues, if different themes. Is "Valley" my favorite Ford film? No. But "Grapes" is. Together they make an impressive program.

I had to see the Wales coal mining story three times before truly appreciating it. More than anything, it's the images that got to me. The men waiting for work. The women waiting for men. Lovely Maureen coming to grips with right, wrong and reality. I don't mean "lovely" in the lustful sense. Her pure, sensitive face is photographed in poetic ways; the way a landscape or a seashore might be. It's her finest performance; thanks, I'm sure, to the eye of an unparalled director.

Any art house that shows these two movies back to back is doing its patrons a big favor. It may not make a lot of money. But it will introduce somebody to classic film at its very best.

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Re: How Green Was My Valley

Postby Gary J. » October 16th, 2011, 11:06 pm

I didn't know that there were any art houses showing classic films any more....

But RedRiver is right about these two films being paired. Critics have juxtaposed both of these Ford films for decades now because of their similar themes (families) and the fact that they were made within a year of each other. Now, I am not such a Ford apologist that I cannot see flaws in the almost 150 films of his career, but I just don't understand the criticism of chaplinfan regarding the fact that GREEN does not show the "squalor and dirt" of the mining towns of Wales. It's there in the opening shot. Ford makes it quite clear from the opening scene with the narration that this is a remembrance "....I am packing my belongs in the shawl of my mother's as she use to wear when she went to the market and I am going from my Valley. And this time I shall never return..."

As as the narration of the adult Huw continues we watch almost documentary footage of a ravaged, soot-filled land contaminated by "the black slag, the waste of the coal pits, {which} had only begun to cover the sides of our hills...". It is gritty, ugly scenery. But that it not the gist of the movie. As the narrator talks about his upbringing and his love of his father, the scene fades to the Valley that Huw grew up in - full of life and love and oh, so green.

I feel that more than any other top director, when you come to a John Ford film it is pointless to have any preconceived notions of how the story should be told. As dictatorial as Ford was on the set towards his actors, that attitude can also be directed to his audience. Whether it was his robust action films, his social dramas, his fidelity of the historical past or his beloved tales of Ireland, Ford sets his standards in the first scenes and it is up to the audience to adhere to those perimeters. If one feels that his attitude is old-fashioned or out of date, then so be it. But more often than not this masterful story telling has more taste and dignity in his version than anything we could conjure up in our sleep.
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Re: How Green Was My Valley

Postby charliechaplinfan » October 17th, 2011, 1:49 pm

Well I guess Gary that I like accuracy when points are being made in films and I feel that the words say one thing but what the eyes see is something completely different. Of course, I accept that the pit isn't pretty, it's is filthy and rules their lives but this is only seen on the screen towards the end. I remember very well Huw's words about how the valley used to before the slag covered the valleys because I have seen the valley's covered in slag and it was nice to see Ford's view of what they would have been like when the mines had just started up. It isn't just the filth, if you read my original post, it's the size of the houses, I realise that it couldn't be filmed in the small dimensions of a miner's home but no attempt has been made to show the poverty of these people. Ford does make his own history, he painted Ireland with a rosy colour in The Quiet Man, but I've never really minded that but this film is about social conditions and it's view is Ford's view not the reality. I think it's worth saying that I appreciate that many people like Ford's vision and storytelling but not me, it's when he lets himself follow his own fancy rather than the accuracy that I lose patience with him, of all the major directors, he is the one that frustrates me the most. His strength's for me are in his images and his depiction of family relationships, which I really enjoyed in HGWMV but ultimately the film was a dissappointment because of the inaccuracies, despite this I would watch it again and no doubt feel the same frustrations because there were things about the film I really enjoyed which I mentioned earlier. It is a film forum and mine is only one opinion, I hope it's appreciated.

I think it's beautiful the way he photographed Maureen O'Hara, Angharad is more than a beauty, she's a symbol. Grapes of Wrath is one of my favourite Ford movies, this along with The Quiet Man are his masterpieces for me. I prefer too his work with Henry Fonda rather than John Wayne.
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How Green Was Huw's Valley

Postby MissGoddess » October 17th, 2011, 6:51 pm

Hi Allison,

Below, I'll try to show with images and as few words possible how I see this movie; I don't say I'm right and other viewpoints wrong, but after becoming more familiar with how Ford examined change and inability to change in so many movies, I've come to see How Green Was My Valley less simply than before.

The movie begins with the older Huw packing to to leave the valley...the valley as it is. However, he will never leave the one in his mind, the valley green in memory. Instead of cutting directly to the past in flashback, we are first presented with a contrast between what is beheld (what is, the reality of the village in the present) and what Huw is talking about, where his mind has already gone before the director has even begun to follow him with the camera...
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Huw's already in the memory and yet the director still has not shown us the friends "that have gone", instead he casts about on these haunted faces (and places) of devastation and loss. So what on earth is Huw speaking of? He imposes his vision of the past, his words are stubborn, almost like a child's "I won't!" insisting on calling up the dead past. Yet Ford persists in holding the camera on the present reality long enough that it must make an impression on the audience. Surely these images are as harrowing and grim as any to be found in social documentary.
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With these words of Huw's, "I close my eyes on the valley as it is today" the camera finally leaves the narrator's present reality and dissolves into his childhood point of view.
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In another aspect of the reality versus how Huw sees things, the movie will show that these following words about his father will not be entirely adhered to; for Huw did go against his father when he decided not to become a doctor---and leave the valley---but to go down into the mine and stay.
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So is Huw's vision we are now beholding to be the truth of how it was? The first words we hear in his childview flashback are sung, almost as if we were about to go suddenly into a musical. In a very sophisticated way, this sequence both echoes the novels lyrical musicality and seems to say this is a dream of the past, an idealization.
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By the end of the movie, the collective results of the village's economic downturn, which seem brought on at least in part by an inability to change, have caused several tragedies. Now the coming realities intrude on Huw's reminiscences and camera settles on his vacant expression, which echoes in its devastation the earlier one of the old woman.
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Yet the movie does not end on the devasted Huw. Instead, the narrator forces his memories of happier days upon the encroaching, slag-like reality, and superimposed on the grim image are visions floating in of Bronwyn, Mrs. Morgan, Angharad and Mr. Morgan as they were happier days, seen through loving eyes...and all the brothers are gathered on a grassy knoll in a cameo that does not even occur in the movie, further reinforcing the idea of dream vs. reality.
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So I conclude the movie shows a grown man who deliberately chooses to forget the grim realities for the idealized memory. The director is characteristically giving us both fact and legend, showing how glorious those images in a child's fixed mind's eye are, but also depicting what a refusal to make some accomodation for change has cost a village and this man. For Huw, by never leaving the valley of the past, never really makes a happy present for himself.
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